Phil Spencer Explains Why the Xbox Series X Doesn’t Have an Optical Audio Port


Despite appearing in some early preview shots, the Xbox Series X will not have an S/PDIF optical audio out port. In today’s episode of Unlocked with Phil Spencer, the Xbox boss re-confirmed the absence and went into detail as to why Microsoft decided to build its next-gen console without the optical audio port.Spencer, who has a background in software development, revealed how his role in leading Xbox brought him closer to the hardware development side of the business, and how when designing a mass-produced consumer product, there are factors like price, space, and usage come into play.“I’m going to use kind of weird terms, but the marginal cost of everything is important,” Spencer said to IGN. “So if you look at a part on a console that’s maybe one, or two dollars and you say, ‘okay, how big of a deal is that inside of a console?’ That’s a few hundred dollars. But then you say, ‘okay, we’re going to plan to sell, you know, 100 million of these consoles.’ So you take two bucks over 100 million now you’re $200 million over the life of the program.”

Spencer also revealed that there were spatial considerations, meaning getting the actual component to fit in the console but also how many people use the optical audio port.

“We also, frankly, know how many people use it today on the console. So I know you do, but we see it. So we also kind of do the math of we have to put a part in every console that X percent of people use, is there a better place for us to spend that money if we can support it in different ways.”

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The decision to remove the optical audio port wasn’t a surprise to Xbox’s audio partners like Astro who make third-party headsets for game consoles, and whose high-end equipment requires the port. “We had a conversation with the headset manufacturers prior to all of this. So when we stood up and said your accessories are going to work, we weren’t kind of walking a tightrope there. We’d already had the conversations.”

And Astro announced that it’s working with Microsoft on a firmware update for its MixAmp Pro TR, A50, and Base Station and A20 headsets for them to be compatible with the Xbox Series X at launch through the USB.

“You know there’s all of these decisions are things that we think through very deeply and try to figure out where the plans are,” said Spencer. “And I know with everything that we don’t do that we used to do, there’s going to be somebody who’s disappointed and it’s not the funnest part of the job, but I think we have a plan for the future.”

Audio on the Xbox Series X will run through HDMI 2.1, which outputs both audio and video up to 8K with Dolby Atmos.You can check out IGN’s full interview with Spencer on the new episode of Podcast Unlocked where he reveals details about the current status of the console amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and competing with the PS5. Also, check out IGN’s full breakdown of the Xbox Series X and how it compares to the known specs of the PS5.

Matt Kim is a reporter for IGN.



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